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November 17, 2000

Professor Warns Rising
Hispanic Poverty a 'Time Bomb'

These may be economic boom times for most of California's population, but Southern California's Hispanic population is falling further behind and is in danger of becoming an "immense impoverished underclass," says California State University, Sacramento professor of business statistics Robert Mogull.

The numbers, he says, show an "impending economic and social disaster for the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area."

Mogull's findings will be published in two forthcoming articles in the Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives and in the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare.

Mogull predicts that state and local policymakers in California face a daunting challenge. His studies describe poverty trends in the combined Los Angeles/Long Beach metropolitan area, and, while they provide a perspective on trends, Mogull says frankly that he doesn't see easy solutions.

Mogull bases his predictions on trends since 1959, using decennial census data and his own annual projections. The numbers show the poverty rate among greater Los Angeles area Hispanics growing from 8.8 percent in 1959 to about 23 percent throughout the 1990s.

Meanwhile, the Hispanic population has exploded. It has grown from 15 percent of the Los Angeles County population in 1970 to a projected 46 percent (4,483,000) in 2000. The California Department of Finance predicts that it will reach 51 percent in 2010 and 64 percent by 2040.

Mogull predicts the Hispanic poverty rate will remain at around 23 percent. The long-term result, he says, is that the Los Angeles area will see growing overall poverty for the foreseeable future, driven by the rapidly growing number of Hispanics and their children. Any downturn in the economy will further intensify the problem.

The trend is so strong, Mogull says, that even the rise in economic standing often seen among American immigrant groups would take many decades to help, at best.

"Politically and socially, I think we're sitting on a time bomb," Mogull says. "And unfortunately, I think it's inevitable."

The poverty level for a family of three was an annual income of $13,290 in 1999, the latest year for which data are available. For a family of four it was $17,029 and for a family of five it was $20,127.

For other groups in Los Angeles - the elderly, female-headed families, African Americans and whites - poverty has been decreasing or has remained relatively steady since 1959. The elderly poverty rate is 16 percent, down from 26.3 percent in 1959; the female-headed families rate is 25.7 percent, down from 31.5 percent in 1959; the African American rate is 21.8 percent, down from 28 percent in 1959; the white rate is 13.8 percent, up from 11.2 percent in 1959.

Perhaps the one silver lining for the Hispanic population, Mogull says, is that their rate of poverty is no longer rising. Roughly the same proportion of Hispanics live in poverty today as in 1990.

But because of their growing numbers, the Hispanic poverty rate has forced the overall poverty rate in Los Angeles to jump from 15.7 to 20.6 percent in just 10 years - and that was during a long period of economic expansion.

Mogull says there are several reasons likely for the persistent high poverty among Hispanics. They include increases in legal and illegal immigration, greater competition for entry-level jobs, comparatively low-level work skills, a static job market for low-skilled labor, a language barrier and a tendency to have more children than other ethnic groups.

The two forthcoming studies utilize a statistical method of predicting poverty that Mogull has developed over the last decade, beginning with an effort to predict statewide poverty.

The method is meant to provide policymakers with accurate, annual poverty estimates, both for the state and for urban areas. Since 1960, the Census Bureau has provided highly accurate poverty data every 10 years, as well as annual poverty data that is much less accurate and often swings wildly from year to year.


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